The largest indigenous linguistic group of people in southern Africa is the Nguni. This group includes the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndebele people. Independent clans within this group grew like enlarged families and the right to take on the position of chief flows through the original male line. This means that the chief ascends to the position through a clearly defined traditional pattern. The son of the chief’s main wife will be next in line and this tradition is called Nkosikazi. This custom is still followed today, as is polygamy, but intermarriage in a clan is never permitted as members of the clan are seen as brothers and sisters.
The word Zulu, which means ‘sky’ was believed to be heard for the first time in the 1620s. Oral tradition says that Zulu was the name given by a couple, Malandela and Nozinja to their son. They lived in an area which later became known as Zululand (or in the Zulu language, KwaZulu) and today is a region of South Africa called KwaZulu-Natal.
The story tells of Zulu growing up to become his mother’s favorite son. His eldest brother, Qwabe, became jealous of Zulu. To protect her son, Nozinja, with the help of a headman (Induna) called Mpungose, took Zulu away and he later formed his own clan. His brother established a clan of his own too, bearing his name, Qwabe. Through the generations the bloodline that links these two clans has weakened and today it is acceptable to intermarry between these two groups of people.
Not much is known about Zulu the man, but in the sixth dynasty of his clan, in the late 1700s, Nandi, the third wife of Chief Senzangakona gave birth to the most well-known Zulu chief, Shaka Zulu. Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, the current reigning King of the Zulu nation, is a direct descendant of Shaka and still plays an important traditional role in the lives of approximately 11 million Zulu people in South Africa today. His role is defined in the South African constitution under the Traditional Leadership Clause as the custodian of the Zulu tradition.
Although KwaZulu-Natal is the spiritual heartland of the Zulu nation, the Zulu language is spoken across South Africa, especially in Gauteng, the most populous provincial area and financial center of the country as well as in small towns across the Mpumalanga region.